When I was still living in the family home Friday nights meant gathering around the television to watch a film from the “Golden Age of Hollywood”. Black and Whites, Classics, and Who Dunnits, all included a five minute presentation by film critic and journalist, Bill Collins, who just bubbled with enthusiasm, sharing information about the actors, filming techniques, theme music and all sorts of trivia connected to the film. Mothers, grandmothers and maiden aunts adored Bill Collins. I loved his personal library containing books which had since been turned into movies. His collection was massive.
At the recent charity book sale I picked up a book called In Harm’s Way, which because it had an illustration of a ship on the front cover I purchased thinking it was connected to a John Wayne movie of the same name.
Big mistake. In Harm’s Way by Doug Stanton tells the true story of the USS Indianapolis which was torpedoed in the South Pacific by a Japanese submarine in the dying days of WW2.
Of the 1100 plus men on board at the time, less than 320 survived, having spent almost five days in the sea battling oil slicks, thirst, hypothermia, and shark attacks, until their rescue. Yes, you read that right: shark attacks. All I can say is how bloody awful.
Despite the content the author has excelled in writing in a totally jargon free manner so you don’t have to have an understanding of ships, or the Navy, to grasp the situation (which is just as well for me).
The story is told in a very personal format weaving the background of three of the survivors – the Captain, the ship’s Doctor, and a young Private – from beginning to end, with lots of quotes included from other survivors.
Not only is the sinking of the ship and the resultant mayhem a tragedy in itself, but the Captain was also court-martialed and became a broken man, finally committing suicide.
I read this book in a single sitting, wanting to know more. As usual with such dreadful wartime tales there are also the wonderful, uplifting stories of the strength of the human spirit that make this old heart sing.
An interesting footnote at the end stated that where the survivor’s efforts to clear Captain McVay of blame failed, an American High School student, as part of a history project, was able to make the politicians listen, albeit too late. Way to go!
Somewhere in an unpacked carton in my garage I feel I may have this story on DVD, but it has to be twenty years old. I just have this faint recollection of sharks and a red headed actor in navy whites. You know, the ranger who was the first bloke on television without pants……Yes, that chappie.
You know I’ll be wading through boxes tomorrow, don’t you?